But QuinStreet itself is not without its own problems. Last June it agreed to hand over one of its sites, GIbill.com, to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. That was part of deal with attorneys general from 15 states, who had accused QuinStreet of deceiving consumers into thinking GIbill.com was operated by the US government. The company also agreed to pay legal fees of $2.5 million to the states and issued the following statement:
QuinStreet, long a leader in ethical marketing practices online, does not engage in deceptive marketing practices and does not believe that its websites were misleading prior to the Agreement.
Here’s a cached copy of GIbill.com as it looked in late May 2012, courtesy of Archive.org. What do you think?
I asked Ferrara why lead-generation companies engage in this massive game of hide and seek. He said it might be because they’re afraid of being punished by Google; if the search giant discovered just how many identical sites they were using and linking together to boost their SEO, these companies might find their page rank reduced – and take a huge financial hit in the process.
“The lack of disclosure to schools in particular can be troublesome,” he adds. “If a school or their agency doesn’t know the school is being displayed on a site, they’ll be unable to monitor its placement or confirm that the site’s information is current and compliant. We require full disclosure of all placement locations for our clients, so they can be regularly policed. Failure to do so is grounds for termination.”
Personally, I have a problem with giving away tons of highly personal information to companies that insist on being anonymous – especially those that don’t offer even the barest minimum of privacy protections. If some company is going to great lengths to mask its identity, there’s a 99.999 percent chance it isn’t doing it to benefit you. Do yourself a favor and avoid doing business with them.
In the third and final part of this series, I’ll talk about the immensely lucrative world of for-profit schools and what’s wrong with it. Look for that one early next week.